The floor-spacing, three-point-shooting Atlanta Hawks tend to serve as a referendum on whether their opponent has a capable defense.
For the second time in 13 days, it was a resounding nay for the Clippers.
The Clippers struggled to stop the Hawks or hold onto the ball during a sloppy 107-98 loss Monday night at Staples Center that was further evidence of their difficulties against top teams.
Atlanta forced 21 turnovers and made 13 of 27 three-point shots on the way to its 19th victory in 21 games, bolstering Clippers Coach Doc Rivers' pregame contention that the Hawks may be the best team in the NBA.
Clippers forward Matt Barnes could only shrug after Paul Millsap's three-point basket late in the fourth quarter extended the Hawks' lead to 14 points and essentially put an end to any hopes the Clippers had of extending their modest three-game winning streak.
The Clippers have a 7-10 record against teams currently with winning records, including 0-5 against the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. It doesn't exactly smack of a contender ready to proclaim, "Bring on the NBA Finals!"
"I don't think it matters with us right now whether it's a winning team or a losing team," said point guard Chris Paul, who was relatively quiet with 10 points and 10 assists. "We just have to play better."
Clippers forward Blake Griffin had one of his more inefficient shooting performances, making six of 17 shots en route to 26 points.
Center DeAndre Jordan had 15 points and 16 rebounds but they didn't add up to much after the Hawks ended the drama with a 9-0 run midway through the fourth quarter that was fueled by four Clippers turnovers.
"We were very lax with the ball," Rivers said, "and when you give a team like that the way they play offense that many extra possessions, you're going to lose the game."
It was another unproductive game for any Clippers reserve not named Jamal Crawford. He had 10 points and three other reserves combined for five points before Rivers emptied the Clippers' bench in the final two minutes.
Millsap finished with 23 points as the Hawks continued to give the Clippers problems with their drive-and-pass attack.
"Defensively, we have no presence right now," Paul said. "We're late on rotations. A lot of that is on me trying to contain these guards on the ball, off the ball. We've just got to get better all around."
Rivers said he was not overly worried about the team, noting that the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs had a losing record against the teams they would go on to face in the playoffs last season.
"I like our style," Rivers said. "When we play well, we win. When we don't play well, we lose. I would like to play well more and we're going to keep trying to do that."
The first half was a study in two of the NBA's most prolific offenses gone awry. The Clippers shot 36.4%, and they were the hotter team. Atlanta made only 35.7% of its shots and missed six of 13 free throws.
The Hawks did make seven of 16 (43.8%) three-points shots, a big reason they were down only 46-44 at halftime.
It would get worse for the Clippers. Much worse.
"We've just got to be more consistent," Paul said. "We play well in stretches, but the good teams stick to what they do defensively and offensively and we haven't done that."